The bench press has a pretty bad reputation for causing shoulder injuries.
If you have used bench press rehabilitation exercises for the shoulder you’ve most likely tried to solve the problem by either:
avoiding any bench pressing at all (along with incline, decline or overhead presses and maybe lat pulldowns as well)
the popular strategy of limiting the range of motion to 90 degrees
Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog then you’re used to my zany ‘off-the-wall’ approach to eliminating nagging injuries.
And, this post you’re about to read is no different.
So, you won’t be surprised when I say that limiting the range of motion performed when bench pressing INCREASES stress to the shoulders and can make pain worse.
It’s no secret that most health & fitness professionals blame bench press shoulder injuries on the exercise itself.
But, before we go and eliminate this exercise from our repertoire, I would like to appeal to your sense of logic and reason in hopes that I just may possibly be able to shed some light on the real cause of shoulder pain when bench pressing and renew your faith in this so-called “shoulder destroyer“…
…Have you noticed that most bench pressing shoulder pain occurs in experienced lifters? You would think this would happen more in weight lifting novices rather than those who have logged in many sessions of benching.
There are 2 main reasons for chronic shoulder pain and injuries:
1) Poor mobility- often caused by tightness or dominance of the prime movers involving protraction, internal rotation & elevation of the shoulder (pectoralis, lattissimus dorsi, anterior deltoid, upper trapezius, levator scapulae, serratus anterior, teres major)
2) Weakness of the scapular stabilizers-often the result of tight or dominant prime movers of the shoulder and/or simply weakness of the muscles involving retraction, depression & external rotation of the shoulder (middle & lower trapezius, teres minor)
A third reason could also be added which would be poor or inefficient neuromuscular coordination…
…but that could tie into the 2 reasons listed above.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that experienced bench pressers tend to exhibit poor shoulder mobility and/or weakness of the scapular stabilizers to a larger degree which is why they experience more cases of bench press shoulder pain.
Aside from eliminating the bench press, many try to limit the range of motion to 90 degrees or less because it is believed that going past 90 degrees places excessive stress on the shoulders and increases the potential for injuries to occur.
There is also the belief that the shoulders become injured simply because they are weak and therefore many individuals attempt various rehabilitation exercises for the shoulder.
However, a closer look into these strategies reveals a different story.
First, limiting bench press range of motion to 90 degrees or less seldom works and can place more stress on the shoulders than going past 90 degrees.
To understand why we have to look at normal, healthy shoulder movement in horizontal or transverse plane abduction which involves activation of the scapular stabilizers.
The scapular stabilizers are vital as they help ‘open-up’ the shoulder.
But, when range of motion is limited to 90 degrees or less the participation of the scapular stabilizers is decreased significantly which places more stress on the anterior shoulder structures and reinforces tightness/dominance of the anterior shoulder musculature and weakness/inhibition of the scapular stabilizers.
This is a HUGE MISTAKE that leads to muscle imbalances of the shoulder and increases symptoms like bench pressing shoulder pain.
This also contradicts the need for common shoulder rehab exercises involving flexion because those muscles are already dominant and are a main cause of shoulder injuries.
Instead, a more effective approach is performing exercises that strengthen the scapular stabilizers which also typically involve shoulder extension.
This is great for rotator cuff rehabilitation and also helps restore normal, healthy shoulder movement, eliminate muscle imbalances and decrease shoulder pain when bench pressing.
I hope this post has changed what you may have previously believed about the bench press and shoulder pain. If you would like information in a future post on exercises and tests you can use to assess shoulder function please leave me a comment below and let me know about it.